Do Your Kids Really Need to Eat Breakfast?

This is a guest post by Parents staffer Michela Tindera.

We've all heard it before: "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day." But in the mad dash of school day mornings–making sure everyone is awake, dressed and on the school bus or in the car on time–completing all of that and providing a well-balanced breakfast can be a challenge worthy of an Olympic medal.

So, when a recent New York Times blog post asked the question, "Is Breakfast Overrated?", many rejoiced to find that two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reached the conclusion that, well, maybe breakfast isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

But what about all of that research that says the opposite ("Skipping breakfast may increase coronary heart disease risk," "Children who skip breakfast might raise diabetes risk")? To settle the issue, we asked a couple of registered dieticians (and moms!) to find out just how this info applies to you and your family.

"It is too early to say that we should stop eating breakfast," Natalia Stasenko, R.D. and mom says.

Both studies only evaluated the role breakfast played in adults' weight loss and energy goals, not children's. And Stasenko adds, kids have an entirely different set of nutritional needs that breakfast can help to fulfill.

"Sometimes we like to take research on adults and apply it to children, but that doesn't really work," Jill Castle R.D., mom and author of Fearless Feeding – How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School says. "There is a lot of research out there on the benefits of breakfast for children." Breakfast helps kids pay better attention in school and is another chance for kids to consume key nutrients they need to grow, like calcium and complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

"Kids aren't like adults," Castle explains. "They're not able to tell themselves that they can hold off to eat until after school. It affects their behaviors. They just get tired and can't focus. And for a child in school, that's one of the worst things that could happen. Adults have this mind over matter thing that kids don't have."

Stasenko also mentions that because children typically sleep for longer amounts of time compared to adults, they are technically fasting for longer, and so breakfast could be more important on that end too.

So keep giving your kids breakfast. And to make it even more effective, Castle and Stasenko share a few of rules of thumb:

  • Always include a source of protein. "Eggs, yogurt, milk, deli meat – whatever your kids like best," Castle says.
  • Skip the baked goods. "I cannot think of any disadvantages of a balanced and nutritious breakfast. But eating croissants with butter every morning worth 700 calories can compromise quality of diet, so what you eat for breakfast is very important," Stasenko says.
  • Avoid serving the same breakfast back-to-back. "Always rotate the meals. An egg-based breakfast on Monday, fruit and yogurt-based breakfast on Tuesday," Castle says.

Need some more inspiration? Give some of our quickest and easiest breakfast recipes a try!

Photo of girl eating breakfast courtesy of Shutterstock.